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David and Moya James, Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview with David and Moya James on April 22, 2015 by Leslie McCartney and Barbara Cellarius at their home at Mile 1254 of the Alaska Highway near the Alaska/Canada border. In this second part of a two part interview, Moya talks about her children going to school in Tok, and David talks about fishing, duck and bird hunting, and small game and muskrat hunting. He also talks about changes in the wildlife populations.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-14-17_PT.2

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Apr 22, 2015
Narrator(s): David James, Moya James
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Barbara Cellarius
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Children going to high school in Tok

Connections with the community of Northway


Duck hunting

Moose hunting and processing


Flight and migration of swans

Changes in the bird populations, and grouse hunting

Hunting small animals, and skills required for hunting

Muskrat hunting and trapping

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: We were talking about where your children went to high school. So you said --

MOYA JAMES: Larry went to the high school in Tok. And Steve was the -- the pusher. The first year that they had high school here it was just a freshman class. Then the next year --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So it was moved -- moved up -- MOYA JAMES: So, it was sophmore, junior, senior. And then the rest of them all graduated over here.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So when they went to high school in Tok, did they travel back and forth every day? MOYA JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. MOYA JAMES: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So there was a school bus.

MOYA JAMES: And it was too much of a hassle. The school bus came down to -- as far as Riverside, and he would try and catch the bus there. DAVID JAMES: Mile 1280. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Yeah. So you'd have to do the extra four miles?

MOYA JAMES: Just have to -- just have to drive him there, catch the bus, and if you missed the bus or if I was taking him up, you know, sometimes he drove, but -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

MOYA JAMES: If he missed it though, he’d have to drive on in. Or if he couldn’t, well he missed school and that was a hassle. And then he got a little cabin to stay in in Tok.

And he was sick one time, so he was home over the -- what was a long weekend. I guess it was like on a Friday or something.

Took him back, I think, it was on Sunday, and I heard these stories. Larry had a big party at his cabin. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh no.

MOYA JAMES: "What are you talking about? When?" They told me when. "He wasn’t in Tok. He was here."

And we went to the cabin and somebody had had a party at his cabin. There's beer bottles all over. They had built a bonfire out in the yard.

They had burned his chair. He had kind of a rocker recliner thing. They had burned it. We found pieces of that in the fire.

I was not happy. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Mm-mm.

MOYA JAMES: And it got to be too much of a hassle, and he finally went out to Oregon and got his GED out there instead of staying there in Tok. LESLIE McCARTNEY: In Tok, right. MOYA JAMES: Hassling with that. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: Well, that party, ain’t that what friends are for?

MOYA JAMES: Sure. Yeah, and then blame him for having this big party and he wasn’t even there, 'cause I've -- a couple of his cousins were telling me about it.

Said -- I said, "Were you there?" "Well, no she was." I said, "Okay, did you see Larry anywhere?" "No." "Okay. Because he was home."

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Geez. So have you had much connection then with all the folks in -- in Northway then over the years, I would -- they're your neighbors.

MOYA JAMES: Some, not a lot. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: We're way up here, they're over there. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Right.

MOYA JAMES: I have more connection with them now than we did before, 'cause Mona, Mike’s gal friend, she's from over there. And so --

But once we got Erica, we had a little more connection, because I wanted her to know a little bit more about her culture.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And she -- MOYA JAMES: She's Native. LESLIE McCARTNEY: She's from Northway area or -- ? MOYA JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. MOYA JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, her -- her mom was raised over here. And her grandma and her great-grandpa and, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Ah. Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: She still has a lot of relatives in the area. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

MOYA JAMES: She has an aunt that does the post office over here.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh. Did you do fishing in the summertime at all? DAVID JAMES: Oh, a little. Not much any more.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But you used to? DAVID JAMES: Oh, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Where did you used to -- DAVID JAMES: Grayling and pike.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. Down on the river? Down near Northway?

DAVID JAMES: The Northway Road where Fish Creek and Moose Creek. There was a real good hole there.

And there've been a lot of pike caught there. Of course, now the river runs through there and it's all mud, so that ended that. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

MOYA JAMES: Grayling from down at Gardiner Creek here. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Gardiner Creek, grayling. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: And Deadman Lake used to do some pike fishing there, but no big ones.

Then in, I think, ’56 Fish & Wildlife got the bright idea to poison it and plant trout. So they went down and poisoned it.

And at that time Fortymile Roadhouse had a bunch of dogs -- dog team. So Jack Scobey (phonetic) went down to pick up the dead fish.

About the biggest one there was like 30 inches long. And for pike that ain’t real big.

But apparently, there are a few of them survived out in the weeds. There was trout caught a few times and then pike. Pike or die. MOYA JAMES: Pike got to feed.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you ever set up fish camp then or you just catch a fish and bring 'em home?

MOYA JAMES: Just catch him and -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Bring 'em home.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah. Go down Desper Creek once in a while and -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm.

DAVID JAMES: Hunted ducks at fish camp.


DAVID JAMES: And that was a real good duck lake. And now the river has went through there. Mud.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So not as many ducks as there used to be there? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: There'd be a few, but it ain’t worth hunting anymore.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Any other place around then that's good for ducks, now? DAVID JAMES: Oh, they go up river. MOYA JAMES: Mark Creek.

DAVID JAMES: And then up Mark Creek, there's a pretty good area up there.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. So you still do that? You still go duck hunting, then?

DAVID JAMES: Oh, I haven’t for a couple years. Get a little old, let the younger ones do it. MOYA JAMES: Yeah, let the younger ones --

DAVID JAMES: And with the moose hunting. I learned a long time ago, once you pull the trigger, the work starts.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: The hunt -- the work isn’t hunting for the moose, it's after you got the moose?

MOYA JAMES: The hunting's the fun part. DAVID JAMES: They go out hunting about ten, fifteen miles out, and butcher 'em, bring the meat out on their four-wheelers, six wheelers.

MOYA JAMES: And when those boys butcher a moose that meat is clean.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm. This is your boys, is it? MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. MOYA JAMES: They'll skin it and, you know, cut off the legs and they'll lay a sheet out, put it on there, wrap it up.

There's not a blade of grass or piece of moss on it. It's all clean when they get it -- when they get done. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: Well, I taught them how to take care of meat and they improved on it. MOYA JAMES: Yeah, they did.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: That's good. What about caribou, too?

DAVID JAMES: We've been getting very few caribou in recent years, but, yeah, they come through here. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

DAVID JAMES: In fact, a couple of days ago I saw a few headed home.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, I think yesterday I saw some out there. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

So they're back on their way? DAVID JAMES: Yep.

MOYA JAMES: They're heading back, yeah. Actually, I saw four and they went that direction and then a while later I saw them go that direction. I guess they decided they must've been going the wrong way.

DAVID JAMES: That's caribou. They travel this way.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Crosswise. I saw the first flock of Canadian geese yesterday flying overhead coming back, so --

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, and yesterday I -- yesterday or the day before I watched hundreds of swans taking off. Hundreds from out there. They were all -- we can see a few little lakes out there. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

MOYA JAMES: And -- and you can see these little white spots around it, you know, and there'd be some flying. They get up and they just fly around and around and around 'til everybody is ready and then they line up. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Go away.

MOYA JAMES: Yep. And their necks all stretched out.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So, spring is here.

DAVID JAMES: One year, her brother and I was hunting up the Taylor Highway. Are you familiar up there?

LESLIE McCARTNEY: No, I've never been up the Taylor. This summer's going to be my first time. Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: And Mount Fairplay. And we was back in behind Fairplay with the old truck.

And we got a moose right at dusk and camped right there. And the next morning, I heard a couple of wolves. And then the cranes, 'cause there's a lot of berries on Taylor Mountain and the cranes would spend the night there.

And this was interesting. A bunch would take off and apparently right where we were there was a draft. They would -- they would circle around and they'd hit that draft and up to about a certain height and then leave.

And the next ones and the next ones. We watched them for there for quite a while.

Yeah, there was a bunch of them and that was interesting. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: But that's what they was doing. They was the catching the -- the draft. MOYA JAMES: Yeah, that's the way they gain their height.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, that helps them. Pushes them along, so they don’t have to expend as much energy. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: It picked up their elevation. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yep.

DAVID JAMES: And I had a neighbor down here. He died last fall. He was kind of a comical guy.

He said somebody -- I don’t remember who. He says, "See the -- that duck there?" "Yeah." "See the size of that head? That brain?" He says, "He's got brains enough to go south when it gets cold." LESLIE McCARTNEY: And this doesn’t.

DAVID JAMES: Got a brain about that big, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

MOYA JAMES: The way people describe things sometimes reminds me of Christy when somebody made some remark about camp robbers being so stupid.

They figured robins were pretty smart, I guess, but not camp robbers. Christy says, "Have you ever seen a robin’s nest?" "Yeah." "Have you ever seen a camp robbers’ nest?" "No." "They're smart enough to hide it."

DAVID JAMES: I've never seen one. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No, I haven't seen one. MOYA JAMES: I haven’t either.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: No. Yeah. So there've been changes in the bird population, too, over the years? DAVID JAMES: Over the years.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. What kind? DAVID JAMES: Some years more than others.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm. It sort of cycles, too?

DAVID JAMES: But there's quite a few birds around. Run up and down the road. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

DAVID JAMES: Shoot them in the ditches. In the brush. MOYA JAMES: Ducks and stuff. And grouse. We always got grouse, too.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do you? MOYA JAMES: The ones that come in the yard we don’t shoot though. They’re our friends.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But you grew up grouse hunting? MOYA JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: Shoot 'em in the head with a .22. You don’t waste any meat and if you miss 'em, they're not injured. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah. You don’t blow a hole through the middle of them and have them fly off somewhere. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, yeah.

MOYA JAMES: So, that's what we always taught the kids, and that's probably one reason they're pretty good shots. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

MOYA JAMES: You know, 'cause that grouse head is not a very big target. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: I started hunting there in Wisconsin. Nine years old and the same thing. Grouse and squirrels.

Gray squirrels are real good eatin'. And that head ain't very big. And he's not dumb.

He'll be laying on an oak limb. He's the same color as that limb and finally you'll see a black spot. The eye. MOYA JAMES: Make a good target. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: And you learn to shoot him in the head. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm. Hm-mm.

DAVID JAMES: And kinda the same with rabbits, and then the bigger animals you don’t have any trouble.

I had somebody out there in the store and I told him that I had used a .270 for years on moose. Oh, he says, "It's kind of small for a moose, ain’t it?" I said, "Twenty-six moose didn’t know that."

Then I told him, I said, "I'll bet at least half of them was one shot pulled it down." "You must've been a hell of a good shot?" "Well," I says, "you don’t shoot unless you know where your bullet's going to hit, do you?" And not another word out of him.

But it just rubbed off from the small game. The muskrats that teaches you. MOYA JAMES: Oh, yeah.

DAVID JAMES: Swimming all over. You head shoot him. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: Behind the head it's slight damaged. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, you don’t get as much money. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right

DAVID JAMES: You get to where you can hit them pretty good. Towards the end of the season you're a little better at it than you are when they first show up.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Right. So that's how you get all your muskrat, you just shoot them? Yeah. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. These are trapped, but -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. DAVID JAMES: Uh-huh MOYA JAMES: Trap some --

DAVID JAMES: When the ice is gone, then you can shoot them. MOYA JAMES: Shoot them. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

But when the ice is in, you just do the traps? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Yeah.

So how many muskrat traps do you have set?

DAVID JAMES: Well, I didn’t set any this year. Mike had some set. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

DAVID JAMES: I guess we get old. I knew he wanted to trap right close here and that's the only place I'd be trapping. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: And I didn’t go out in the valley because, well, when the season opened there was very little snow. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm.

DAVID JAMES: And my old machine, yeah, the tundra or niggerheads or whatever you want to call 'em is awful rough. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: On that old machine. It's only -- the skis are only that far apart. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: And by the time I had snow enough to get out there, I didn’t figure it was worth going out. There wasn’t much around to catch. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

DAVID JAMES: So I never went out. There's always next year.